Learning to Plan Optimally with Flow-based Motion Planner

21 Oct 2020  ·  Tin Lai, Fabio Ramos ·

Sampling-based motion planning is the predominant paradigm in many real-world robotic applications, but its performance is immensely dependent on the quality of the samples. The majority of traditional planners are inefficient as they use uninformative sampling distributions as opposed to exploiting structures and patterns in the problem to guide better sampling strategies. Moreover, most current learning-based planners are susceptible to posterior collapse or mode collapse due to the sparsity and highly varying nature of C-Space and motion plan configurations. In this work, we introduce a conditional normalising flow based distribution learned through previous experiences to improve sampling of these methods. Our distribution can be conditioned on the current problem instance to provide an informative prior for sampling configurations within promising regions. When we train our sampler with an expert planner, the resulting distribution is often near-optimal, and the planner can find a solution faster, with less invalid samples, and less initial cost. The normalising flow based distribution uses simple invertible transformations that are very computationally efficient, and our optimisation formulation explicitly avoids mode collapse in contrast to other existing learning-based planners. Finally, we provide a formulation and theoretical foundation to efficiently sample from the distribution; and demonstrate experimentally that, by using our normalising flow based distribution, a solution can be found faster, with less samples and better overall runtime performance.

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